Ten Favorite Japanese Expressions

Life is full of ki-do-ai-raku (kee-doh-ah-ee-rah-koo; delight-anger-sorrow-fun), and some phrases slip out of our mouths repeatedly in response to different daily situations. Master these common Japanese expressions and use them casually to sound like a native.

Yatta

(yaht-tah; I did it!)

Say yatta when you accomplish something big, receive a great opportunity, or feel victorious. Passing a difficult test, getting the job you wanted, or winning the lottery — these all qualify as yatta material.

Hontô

(hohn-tohh; Really?)

Say hontô to confirm what you've just heard. Suppose your colleague tells you that she's getting married to your boss. Respond to the news by saying hontô. What if your friend says that he'll give his car to you for free? Say hontô before saying thank you. You can say hontô in a lot of situations in your daily life because so many unbelievable things happen every day.

Â, sô desu ka

(ahh, sohh deh-soo kah; Oh, I see.)

Say Â, sô desu ka every time your conversational partner provides a new piece of information. You need to acknowledge each new bit of info by saying, Oh, I see. Be sure to nod as you say this expression. If you talk casually with a Japanese person, you may use this phrase 200 times in one hour.

Mochiron

(moh-chee-rohn; Of course!)

This is the favorite adverb of confident people. Use it when you're 100 percent confident in your opinion. If you were a married man, how would you answer this question, posed to you by your wife: Would you marry me if you had a chance to do it all over again? A word of advice: Don't think about it; just say mochiron to her because you only live once, and you'll never actually be faced with the decision.

Â, yokatta

(ahh, yoh-kaht-tah; Oh, good.)

Say Â, yokatta every time you feel like saying What a relief or Oh, good. If you're Mr. or Ms. Worrier, you may say Â, yokatta ten times a day:
Did I turn off the stove?
Yes, you did.
Â, yokatta.
My daughter was kidnapped!
No, she's right there behind you.
Â, yokatta.

Zenzen

(zehn-zehn; Not at all.)

Zenzen is the phrase of denial. Suppose that someone asks you, "Am I disturbing you?" when they're not bothering you at all. Say zenzen and shake your head. Suppose that your spouse or friend asks whether you understand why he or she is so mad. If you don't have any idea, say zenzen, if you have the courage.

Nani

(nah-nee; What?)

Nani is a question word. It's handy when you talk with a Japanese person. Say nani when you don't hear or understand what the other person said.

You can also say nani when you can't believe or don't like what you hear. For example, your fiancée suddenly announces, "I'm getting married to Tom." If your name is Frank, you can surely say nani. That's assuming you have the ability to form words at that point.

Dôshiyô

(dohh-shee-yohh; What shall I do?)

Say dôshiyô when you're in a panic and have no idea what to do. You can repeat it over and over while you try to think of what to do: Dôshiyô, dôshiyô, dôshiyô. Now, you sound like you're in big trouble. What happened? Oh, you've locked your car door with your keys and your coat inside?!

Â, bikkurishita

(ahh, beek-koo-ree-shee-tah; What a surprise!)

Say Â, bikkurishita when you're very surprised. Is your family known for throwing surprise parties? If so, say Â, bikkurishita after they shout out Surprise on your birthday.

Yappari

(yahp-pah-ree; I knew it would happen.)

Sometimes you have a vague suspicion that something will happen, and then it actually happens. At times like that, say yappari. Suppose that you haven't received a newspaper for the last month, but the newspaper delivery person says that he has dropped it off in front of your door every day. One day, you wake up earlier than usual, and you see your neighbor picking up your newspaper. If you had a suspicion that your neighbor was up to something, say yappari.

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